I woke up this morning to find that the water feeding the toilets in the house was full of dirt/mud/silt. After taking a look at my well pump system I found that the pressure switch keeps turning the pump on and off every second or two. Each time the switch turns the pump off, the water from the pressure tank discharges back down the line towards the well/pump. After enough pressure is lost, the switch activates the pump again. This repeats ad infinitum.

I believe that the water discharging back down into the well is causing dirt to be kicked up in the well, which makes the water in my toilets filled with dirt since the water line to them isn't filtered.

Any way, what is most likely the problem? It seems that there should be a check valve or something to keep the pressure in the pressure tank / line from escaping back towards the well. Maybe that went bad?

Or maybe the pressure switch went bad? When the switch is turned on for the first time (after letting all the pressure out of the line), the water pressure worked its way up to 80 or 90 psi, and stayed there with the pump on for a minute before the switch turned the pump off... it seemed like the switch should have turned the pump off sooner.

Some basic details: My system consists of a ~100 ft deep well with a submersible pump, a pressure switch (that was replaced about 2 years ago), a control/electrical box for the switch, and a 5 or 10 gallon pressure tank that looks fairly new (it's at least 3 years old).

EDIT: video of the behavior (action starts at 4:10): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EfE98N5p1gQ&list=UU-PYeNYSUiTfiH1ZfcD9_cw

EDIT 2: video of pressure behavior when 2 outlets are open letting water run (remains at ~56psi with pump on): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oDqSMMJUVXY&list=UU-PYeNYSUiTfiH1ZfcD9_cw

And more info: With the pump off, and pressure on line at 0 psi, I measured the tank pressure and it was at around 65psi - so I'm guessing the bubble/bladder isn't bad? But the pressure might need to be lowered in the tank?

Any help/advice/suggestions you can give me is appreciated! Thanks in advance!

  • Bad check valve in the pressure tank? Nov 18, 2014 at 13:39
  • Sounds like what happened to me - dirt clogged your pressure relief valve at some point, which you would never notice. Eventually, your switch failed, and didn't shut off when the pressure got high, which caused the bladder in your tank to pop, which causes the pump to cycle quickly. Replace all 3.
    – mbeckish
    Nov 18, 2014 at 14:44
  • @mbeckish is there a way to tell if the bladder in my tank is broken?
    – Rafe
    Nov 18, 2014 at 14:58
  • 1
    Unless there's something turned on in the house, the check valve is not working, too.
    – Ecnerwal
    Nov 18, 2014 at 15:30
  • 1
    Bladder probably intact, but pressure is way too high - bleed it down to 29 PSI.
    – Ecnerwal
    Nov 18, 2014 at 16:19

2 Answers 2


All sort of issues here - while there's a short list of things that one normally looks for with extreme short cycling (such as a blown bladder in the pressure tank) that doesn't touch the 90 PSI issue...

If, in fact, water is going back down the well, the check valve in the pump (there is pretty much always one built into deep well pumps) is bad. Depending how your system is set up, there may or may not be another one inside the house, which would also have to be bad. My own system, after considerable reading and opinion-gathering, has only the check valve on the pump 300 feet down my well. When it goes, it's pump-pulling time. That would be the case even if there were others, and others might actually cause that to happen sooner according to a number of experienced well folks, which is why the other one I bought is still sitting in a box, not installed. In another few years I'll put a new pump on the shelf for when this one dies, so it's not a panic buy when (not if) I need it.

80-90 PSI is VERY high and almost certainly indicates a problem with the pressure switch. Certainly on my well the emergency relief valve lets go at 100PSI. On 40 off 60 is usually the upper range of domestic well pump "common settings" (30/50 and 20/40 being the other two commonly seen.) Ideally you'd know what your setting usually is or it may be recorded on a sticker somewhere on the system. You mention it going to the very high pressure when first switched on after being off for a while - what was it cycling between when you found it?

You could TRY hooking up a garden hose and opening that valve, then turning the pump on to flush out the crud that's been stirred up. It's possible-but-not-likely that this MIGHT clear a bit of crud that is jamming the check valve open. If nothing else it will get the stirred-up crud out of the well before the pump is repaired or replaced.

If your well is prone to throwing dirt, you may want to add a "spin-down filter" (I put mine after the relief, but before the rest of the system - this was contrary to the manufacturers instructions - they suggested after the pressure tank - but in line with the whole point of having it.)

  • So I don't see check valve in the house on the water line before the pressure switch/tank. Are they pretty easy to identify? I only see what looks like pvc piping. To answer your question - it was "cycling" quickly between on and off at a lower pressure.. probably around 50 psi, but it's hard to tell because the gauge needle is flipping back and forth. The switch is a 30/50, so there's definitely a problem with it considering the pressure gets up to 85 psi the first time you power up the system. I just uploaded a video of the behavior. Please check out my question above for url.
    – Rafe
    Nov 18, 2014 at 14:56
  • No check valve in the house is perfectly normal for a deep well pump. As stated, the one in the pump is really the only one you need, and others may well hurt rather than help.
    – Ecnerwal
    Nov 18, 2014 at 15:06

Short answer: This indicates a bad foot valve, check valve, both, or both in-part. Could have dirt in the seal and its weeping. May just need cleaning. If not: Step 1, change or add check valve. Step 2, change foot valve. If all else fails, call a well company.

  • Thanks for the input. I ended up getting a new well pump and pressure tank. The check valve on the pump was bad and there was a leak in my pressure tank diaphragm.
    – Rafe
    Mar 4, 2018 at 15:48
  • @Rafe please up vote one of the answers thanks is nice but your question keeps getting recycled if you don't pick one , or add your comment as the answer and up vote it.
    – Ed Beal
    Nov 5, 2018 at 15:40

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